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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

BC Liberals, others, Twitter their way onto the wrong side of election gag laws

Yesterday, I wrote about the threat to free speech posed by US campaign finance laws which regulate press freedom and political speech.

During the British Columbia legislative elections which are happening today, the incumbent governing Liberal Party (whose own new election gag law was found unconstitutional by the province's Supreme Court in March) ran afoul of portions of the law which similarly restrict political speech by posting messages to the social networking site Twitter.

Vancouver's Georgia Straight reports:

Elections B.C. has said that the B.C. Liberal Party has violated section 233 of the province’s Election Act by posting campaign messages on Twitter on election day. A look at the microblogging Web site suggests that other organizations have done the same.

Section 233 of the Act states: “On General Voting Day, election advertising must not be published, transmitted or broadcast in an electoral district until the close of all voting stations in the electoral district.”

On May 12, the B.C. Liberal Party’s Twitter account, @bcliberalparty, posted messages on Twitter promoting the party and broadcasting negative messages related to the NDP...

Under the Election Act, individuals or parties found to have violated section 233 of the Act are liable for a fine of up to $10,000 or up to one year in prison, according to [Elections B.C. spokesman Kenn] Faris. A penalty for violating section 233 is issued at the discretion of B.C.’s chief electoral officer.

Because the Liberals responded to Elections B.C.’s request in a timely manner, Faris said, the matter would not be pursued and the Liberal Party will not be punished.

Two other groups participating in the election, the provincial Green Party and British Columbians for BC-STV also appear to have acted violated the Election Act through their use of Twitter.

In the 2008 Federal election, blackout laws were violated by communicating election results to individuals in areas where the polls were still open by blogs, social media sites and satellite television stations.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on May 12, 2009 in Canadian Provincial Politics | Permalink


What we need in Canada is some sort of quasi-judicial inquiry that doesn't give two squats about the legality of laws, and instead has the power to squash legislation for being completely unenforceable. Laws against disseminating election results barely held up when we merely had the ability to receive phone calls in Victoria from friends and family in Halifax. It was hard enough to ban "broadcasting advertising on election day" when you could watch political ads on TV shows you recorded on your VCR two days earlier.

Bring in the internet and twitter and pretty soon even a horribly rigid "no campaigning on election day" becomes totally moot. The blackout laws are already becoming totally unenforceable due to Facebook (ie. even if the feds hired 20 million third world persons to monitor every Canadian's superwall, most accounts would be blocked to nonfriends), and at a certain point as with far too much current legislation the government may just have to give up.

Posted by: Feynman & Coulter's Love Child | 2009-05-12 7:36:09 PM

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